I Want You! The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Army
The President’s Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force – the Gates Commission – and Selective Service Reform (1969-1970)
A Special Commission
Four days after the meeting of the National Security Council, Nixon directed Laird to “begin immediately to plan a special Commission to develop a detailed plan of action for ending the draft” (Nixon, 1969a0.1 MB). The commission was to report to Nixon by May 1, 1969. Laird was, however, not enthusiastic about a special commission. While he favored an all-volunteer force, he did not want to start with a special commission so early in the new administration. He was wary of the new White House and National Security Council teams and wanted time to get prepared before undertaking such a major effort, especially one that was as politically charged as ending the draft. In a memorandum back to Nixon, Laird suggested he had both good and bad news. The good news was that “the initial steps for moving towards this goal [of an all-volunteer force] are already underway.” The bad news was that
these initial steps, of themselves, make inappropriate at this time the establishment of a special Commission to develop a plan of action for ending the draft. In my judgment, such a Commission should begin its work later, after the Department of Defense has had the opportunity to work out and promulgate the absolutely vital measures now under review. . . . We call the plan I am proposing “Project Volunteer.” (Laird, 1969a30.4 MB)
Laird concluded his reply to Nixon with a the final thought: “If you still feel that an outside commission should be announced prior to completion . . . [of the Pentagon study], please advise me and I will be pleased to submit a list [of] suggested members for the Commission” (Laird, 1969a30.4 MB).
Project Volunteer: Laird’s Alternative to a Special Commission
When Laird got to the Pentagon, his inclination was to try to slow the rush to an all- volunteer force. It was not that he disagreed with Nixon on the goal of moving away from conscription; rather, he wanted to better position himself for the coming debate, and he thought that it would take a little time, given the more-pressing issues of the war in Vietnam. Fortunately, DoD was already gearing up for a new study of the feasibility of the all-volunteer force, and if Nixon agreed to wait for the results of that study, it would give him the time he needed to sort things out at the Pentagon.
The idea for the new study had taken hold the previous fall, before the election, when the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman L. Mendel Rivers (D-North Carolina), asked the Pentagon if
any current studies [were] being made by the Department of Defense on this [the all-volunteer force] subject [and any recent efforts by the Department] to provide new incentives to attract more volunteers for military service. (Rivers, 19680.1 MB)8
Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower and Reserve Affairs) Alfred Fitt sent an extensive list of relevant projects to Rivers on October 2, 1968. These included economic studies of manpower supply, surveys of enlisted motivation, and Project 100,000 (Fitt, 1968a0.7 MB).9 Two weeks later, Fitt wrote the chairman that he had decided to “initiate a more comprehensive planning study to systematically re-examine all possible ways to maximize the number of volunteers” (Fitt, 1968b0.1 MB). The fact there was to be a new study was reported in The New York Times within days, under the heading, “Pentagon is Re-examining Feasibility of an All-Volunteer Force to End Draft” (Beecher, 1968).
On October 4, 1968, Fitt told his colleagues at the Pentagon, the assistant secre- taries of the military departments, of his intent to undertake a new, comprehensive study and that he had selected Harold Wool to head the “ad hoc planning group” (Fitt, 1968a0.1 MB).10 Before the end of October, Wool provided a study plan and selected the title Project Volunteer, as he said, “in the absence of any convenient rubric” (Wool, 1968a). Given the outcome of the election, however, Wool suggested they make no “major commitments . . . pending discussions with representatives of the incoming Administration” (Wool, 1968b0.3 MB).11
After the change of administration, Fitt — still on the job until his replacement was confirmed — told Laird, the new Secretary of Defense, about the study.12 Laird asked to see the study plan. Several days later, the same day Nixon signed his directive to Laird to “begin immediately to plan a special Commission to develop a detailed plan of action for ending the draft” (Nixon, 1969a0.1 MB), Fitt provided Laird a copy of the “Project Volunteer” study plan. In the accompanying memorandum (Fitt, 1969b0.1 MB), he took the position that “it would be far better for the President to direct you [Laird] to perform the study than to give the task to a Presidential Commission.” He assured Laird that
[i]nstitutionally we [DoD] prefer volunteers, for many reasons, and there is no bias here against (a) thorough, objective analysis, or (b) change. . . .
If there must be a Presidential Commission . . . then I hope . . . [it will occur] after DOD has had a year or so to develop all the facts and its own recommendations. (Fitt, 1969b0.5 MB)13
President Nixon’s memorandum of January 29, 1969, was sent to Fitt’s office for “appropriate action.” His staff prepared a draft of a memorandum to Laird that Fitt was “very much alarmed at the course of action directed by the President . . . on the subject of the all-volunteer force.” It laid out in detail the current state of affairs and pressed the argument to slow “the President down a little bit on this incredibly important and complicated issue” (Fitt, 1969d0.1 MB). In the file, however, the draft memorandum is marked “NOT SENT.” What was sent to Laird is not known, but the memorandum Laird signed and sent to Nixon followed the arguments Fitt had made when he sent him the study plan.
Laird’s response to Nixon did not go over well with Nixon’s senior staff. In a memoran- dum on “Secretary’s Laird’s answer to President’s directive in regard to the All-Volunteer Armed Force,” Anderson told Burns, “Secretary Laird has declined to comply with the President’s request . . . ” (Anderson, 1969b0.6 MB). He characterized Laird’s plan as “unwise” and, while admitting that DoD’s arguments had “merits,” he told Burns he thought they were “not convincing.” He prepared for Burns’s consideration a draft of a response for the President to sign and suggested it be forward to Nixon (Anderson, 1969a0.1 MB) — the letter Nixon actually signed was slightly different from Anderson’s draft but conveyed the same sentiments.
On February 6, 1969, Nixon “advised” Laird he wanted to go ahead with the outside commission. He congratulated him on the fact the department “has already taken the initial steps for moving toward an all-volunteer armed force . . . [and should] continue, at full speed, with the efforts you currently have underway” (Nixon, 1969b0.1 MB). But, he said, these efforts made him “feel all the more strongly that the time has come to develop a detailed plan . . . [and that] . . . [such] a plan should be developed by an outside Commission.” He also told Laird that the commission should “draw heavily on the experts in your department [and] [w]hen the special Commission reports to me, I will want you to review their work and give me your recommendations” (Nixon, 1969b, emphasis added0.1 MB). He again asked Laird for a list of names of people who might serve on the special commission. The next day, Laird provided his list. The first name on it was Thomas S. Gates, Jr.14
On March 27, the President announced the formation of a commission, under the leadership of former Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates, Jr. The commission was charged to “develop a comprehensive plan for eliminating conscription and moving toward an all-volunteer armed force” (Nixon, 1969c0.1 MB).
Setting Up the Commission
Great care was taken in choosing the commissioners. Anderson recalls that the White House decided not to “stack the deck” with commissioners all committed to an all-volunteer force. The reasoning was that a commission that contained a mix of people, including some who did not support the all-volunteer force, would be more creditable in the final analysis. In fact, the chairman of the commission that would forever bear his name, the Gates Commission, told Nixon that he was “opposed to the whole idea of a volunteer force.” Nixon then told him that “that’s exactly why I want you as the Chairman. . . . If you change your mind and think we should end the draft, then I’ll know it is a good idea” (Anderson, 1991, p. 5).
If the commission was not “stacked” in numbers, it was, in Anderson’s mind, stacked intellectually. As an advocate of the all-volunteer force, Anderson counted on the substantial powers of persuasion of economists Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan to drive the commission to recommend the end of conscription (Anderson, 2001).15 It was a calculated decision that proved correct. In fact, Friedman was able to deliver a unanimous recommendation in favor of an all-volunteer force.
The commission included a number of people who had already made their mark on the debate over the draft during the previous decade. Besides Milton Friedman, the commission included two other outspoken proponents of the all-volunteer force, H. Allen Wallis and Stephen Herbits. Herbits was the token “student” on the commission.16 While he was a law student, he was also one of the principal architects of the influential 1967 congressional monograph, How to End the Draft: The Case for an All- Volunteer Army. In later years, as a staffer on the Hill, he shepherded the all-volunteer force legislation through Congress and eventually became the Pentagon’s “special assistant” in charge of the all-volunteer force. The commission also included such notables as Father Theodore Hesburgh and Generals Alfred Gruenther and Lauris Norstad.
The research staff was drawn largely from the group that prepared the Rochester memorandum for Arthur Burns and from those who had worked on the 1964 Pentagon Draft Study. Notably, this included Walter Oi and Stuart Altman. The federally funded research and development centers that supported the Pentagon also provided staff: the Center for Naval Analyses, then a subsidiary of the University of Rochester; the Institute for Defense Analysis; and RAND. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Analysis (SA) and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs (M&RA) were also told to cooperate.17
8 Chairman Rivers noted that his committee had given “careful consideration” to the all-volunteer force during the hearings in 1966 and 1967 on reauthorizing the Selective Service Act, and found that
the all-volunteer force concept . . . impracticable and, therefore, rejected by the Committee . . . and ultimately endorsed by the entire Congress. . . . there nonetheless continues to be substantial public interest . . . and interest manifested by many Members of Congress. (Rivers, 19680.1 MB)
9 Project 100,00 was a test program to see whether the military could use “men who were being disqualified for military service under previous mental standards and some men with physical defects which were correctable within a short period of time” (Greenberg, 19722.2 MB).
10 Wool was the Director of Procurement and General Research Policy and had helped Fitt prepare for the new study. He also worked on 1964 Pentagon Draft Study.
11 Wool, however, was eager to get on with the long-lead-time research, particularly “one or more intensive motivational surveys among civilian youth, designed to elicit their military service plans and their responsiveness to various types of recruitment incentives” (Wool, 1968c0.2 MB).
12 On January 11, 1969 Wool submitted to Fitt a revised plan, noting that “[n]one of the Services, however, have taken exception to the very comprehensive scope of the study plan . . . in fact, [they] provided mainly for inclusion of additional areas of study” (Wool, 19690.3 MB).
13 The same day, in a separate note, Fitt warned Laird
against economists at the Council of Economic Advisors who were fanatic opponents of the draft. . . .
many economists have closed minds on the subject. . . .
My concern is that the economists (whom I respect greatly as a general rule) with the President’s ear do not stack the deck against a thoughtful, careful objective study of the problem. (Fitt, 1969a0.1 MB)
14 Other names on the list, which can be found in Laird (1969c0.1 MB), included Allen Wallis, President of the University of Rochester, and William Meckling, also of Rochester. By the end of February, a tentative list of commissioners was available (Mack, 19691.3 MB). The final list of commissioners was agreed to “at a meeting at the White House” on March 26, 1969 (Feulner, 19690.2 MB).
15 By 1969, Friedman had become a very public critic of the draft, testifying before Congress and pressing his views in his Newsweek column. In 1968, he wrote that the draft adds “to the strains on our society by using a method of manning our armed forces that is inequitable, wasteful and basically inconsistent with a free society” (Friedman, 1968b). In his Newsweek column on March 16, 1970, he noted that he “was much impressed by the emergence of unanimity out of initial disagreement” (Friedman, 1970b).
16 A number of Congressmen (Stafford, 19690.2 MB) pressed to make Stephen Herbits a member of the commission. They told the President that
[t]he exhaustive research effort which went into our analysis of the draft and potential avenues for change was undertaken by Stephen E. Herbits, whose expertise on current manpower systems and alternatives is extraordinary. (Stafford et al., 19690.3 MB)